The Maridon Museum recently redesigned its Snuff Bottle Exhibit. The exhibit is donated in Loving Memory of James T. “Jim” Sweeney and a dedication plaque can be seen next to the exhibit. If you’ve never seen our snuff bottle exhibit, let us illustrate the purpose and beauty of these tiny works of art for you.
Snuff bottles originated from China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) where they were used to hold powdered tobacco. Initially these bottles were made for the emperor and the court, but eventually expanded to the public. Snuff was understood to have healing powers for common illnesses, so while smoking tobacco was illegal, using snuff was permitted.
It is clear the beauty of snuff bottles supersedes their usefulness! The museum’s collection includes bottles made from hornbill, jade, ivory, cinnabar, amber, glass, enamel, turquoise, porcelain, mother-of-pearl, opal, jasper, hardstone, cloisonne, lapis, quartz, and agate. The sizes are usually around 1 ½” to 3” with a couple as tall as 6”. The variety of shapes and images are extensive and focus on nature, especially mountains and water. These images appealed to all who lived in the cities. Owners of these bottles could be soothed by not only the contents but also by viewing the natural scene on them. Some designs focus on the natural shape of the medium while others reflect the important Chinese themes associated with nature. For example, a gourd design reflects on longevity, while goats coupled with the whirling sun symbolizes the beginning of a great future.
People collect snuff bottles even today for their history and for their art. You can find such objects at auction houses such as Christies. Click here for an article from Christie’s talking about the five things to know about collecting snuff bottles.
Please enjoy the photo gallery of some of the museum’s snuff bottle collection so you can appreciate the beauty of these tiny works of art. Better yet, come see the full exhibit for yourself. If you would like, you can call ahead to schedule a docent to learn even more about our snuff bottles as well as the rest of our collection.